Two consecutive sexual assaults were reported near Cal Poly’s campus earlier this month, but nearly three weeks’ worth of investigation into the incidents hasn’t garnered much new information on the culprits.
The investigation for these assaults is ongoing, San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) investigative lieutenant John Bledsoe said.
“We haven’t had any new information on any suspects as far as anyone providing any information, but the good news is that we haven’t had any other assaults either,” Bledsoe said. “We’re hoping that we can get some info from Crime Stoppers or any citizen, but at this point we’re kind of at a stalemate.”
Though these two incidents can seem to indicate an uptick in the number of sexual assaults because of their publicity and timing, Cal Poly’s sexual assault resource, Safer and Gender Equity Center coordinator Christina Kaviani said this is not the case.
“If reporting goes up, there’s a misconception that more people are being assaulted. But really, we’re giving people more information about how they can report it,” Kaviani said. “I tend to try and veer away from statistics because it’s not very accurate.”
Sexual assaults by the numbers
Though Kaviani is hesitant to cite statistics as evidence of sexual assault increases — after all, less than 5 percent of sexual assaults are actually reported, she said — she can attest to the number of students who sought help from Safer: 17 during Fall 2012, and 45 total for the 2011-12 school year.
Kaviani said the culture surrounding sexual assault at Cal Poly is similar to any other college campus, in that there are a few common threads in most incidents of sexual harassment seen by Safer.
“It’s often someone associated within their friend group,” Kaviani said of a potential assaulter. “Then there’s a line where the consent is lost and there’s not clear communication.”
Kaviani also cited alcohol as a common factor in many of the cases she sees. She said although alcohol cannot be blamed for causing sexual assault, it is often involved.
“When someone drinks alcohol, you don’t know how incapacitated they are and you don’t know their cues,” Kaviani said.
As far as on-campus sexual assaults go, University Police Department (UPD) Chief George Hughes said Cal Poly sees very few that are reported and confirmed by UPD. However, he also spoke to the inaccuracy of sexual assault statistics.
“Unfortunately with this type of crime, it typically goes unreported for several reasons,” Hughes said. “The victim doesn’t want it to become public, sometimes the victim knows who the assailant is and doesn’t want that to become public, and there’s some blame that they sometimes put on themselves.”
Hughes said safety on and around campus starts with education and awareness.
“It all starts with those messages about how to take care of ourselves,” Hughes said.
Kaviani said her goal for education on safety in regards to sexual assault would be to implement it into the coursework of Cal Poly’s classes.
“I’ve been an advocate of having coursework for every student that discusses the repercussions of unhealthy sexual ideas,” Kaviani said. “I would love that every college student have really solid information given to them, not just one time over their college career but multiple times.”
In the meantime, Safer and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) are working together on a few upcoming campaigns.
The two organizations will put on a self-defense workshop in March, as well as provide more social media and on-campus marketing, Kaviani said. She also said a few members of ASI are looking into the current lack of lighting on streets surrounding Cal Poly.
“Safer’s main piece is that we’re giving awareness to the Cal Poly community,” Kaviani said.
Sexual assault victims at Cal Poly have a variety of options for assistance, depending on what kind of help they are looking for.
Hughes said a report to UPD is more of an official matter, and UPD does not have the ability to take legal action if the victim does not desire to do so.
“Obviously I would love to be able to prosecute everyone, but I’m more concerned about the person themselves,” Hughes said. “As long as they report it to somebody, I really don’t care who it is. I just want to make sure that they report it to somebody to make sure that they are getting the assistance that they need.”
Safer’s approach takes more of the direction toward mental and emotional health.
Safer’s goal is to look into the next steps with a victim. It is accredited by the San Luis Obispo Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention (SARP) Center and provides counseling by both professionals and peers. According to Hughes, Safer is in no way required to disclose incidents to UPD.
“Safer’s mission is to make sure people are feeling safe, supported and educated,” Kaviani said.
She also said if a victim wants more long-term counseling they are referred to SARP.
Kaviani agreed with Hughes in that ultimately, the important factor in recovering from sexual assault is to report it to someone, whether that is the authorities or just a friend.
“You have to feel very empowered to come out of a situation like that, and when you’re assaulted your power is taken away,” Kaviani said. “There’s responsibility on all people to take an active effort.”